The Community of Community Theatre by Thomas Putnam
Our production of Mary Poppins closed a few weeks ago. It was a wonderful way to conclude weeks of rehearsal and set building and costume/prop gathering. Suddenly—after four great audiences—it's done. Everything is getting put away and washed and stored. But it ain't over.
Yes, the great joy of offering the weeks of efforts to appreciative audiences is a huge thrill, but there's much more to community theatre. There were about 30 people involved with the production. I would guess that well over 50 percent of them did not know most of the others in the cast or crew. They came from Corning and Westfield and Blossburg and Liberty and all points in between. They spent weeks together dancing and singing and sweating and laughing and encouraging and waiting and acting and painting.
The unique community that is formed in a community theatre production is like nothing else. There are similarities to a sport team or a workplace or a church or Scout troup, but working together for 8 weeks on a creative endeavor and then offering it to audiences is enriching and empowering.
I heard so many comments from cast and crew how they have formed new friendships and have great appreciation for the others in this creative endeavor. Some will keep in contact; others will never be seen again. (One is moving to Iowa next week.) Phone calls and social media avenues will be made with some. Some will audition for other HG shows. Some will get together in non-theatrical opportunities.
Live theatre is just that: it lives. This production will never happen again with these people in this place at this time in history. A production cannot be repeated. It is here (gloriously, wondrously, thankfully) and then it is not. But the community for these weeks has indeed been enriching and empowering...and transforming. We're better persons for it.
Being Daddy By Thomas Putnam
My father died twenty years ago. He lived to see nearly ten years of his son's involvement with Hamilton-Gibson Productions. (My mother died before HG even began; it's difficult for me to wrap my head around the idea that she never knew about something that has been so much a part of my life for over 30 years.) My dad died the day after we closed our production of South Pacific. I don't think there's any significance in that, only that it provides context in the timeline of things.
I am a softie for plays that include fathers and sons. HG's very first musical was a The Yearling. More people have read the novel than have even heard of the musical, let alone seen it. I was drawn to it—way back in 1991—I'm sure because I love the relationship of Penny and his son, plus the music was charming. I played the dad. There's something moving and heartbreaking and real about a son who struggles with a relationship with his dad, and about fathers who just can't figure out how to affirm and grow a healthy boy.
I played Atticus Finch in our production of To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus has always held a fascination for me, not only for his defense of the falsely accused, but perhaps more his working his way through parenthood—and the even more challenging single parenthood. His relationship with Scout is one thing; but his relationship with his son Jem has always pulled me in.
There are other father/son relationships that HG has explored. We're exploring another one this weekend. Mr. Banks: banker, stiff-upper-lip Edwardian, and father of two. The challenges of a son trying desperately to know how to please his father and yearning to spend time with him. The challenges of a father who struggles to provide materially for his family and his seeming inability to discover how to connect with his son. There are very few lines in Mary Poppins between father and son, but those few are packed full of revelation of this struggling relationship...and it hurts...and it's beautiful.
I am incredibly grateful that Matt Huels (of Tioga) and Collin Hoke (of Westfield) auditioned for this production. They climb into the skin of their characters and walk around in it. As Lauren Gunderson says, empathy is the superpower of theatre. The opportunity to climb into another's skin; it's priceless.
My dad's first name was George. Mr. Banks first name is George. There's no real significance in that coincidence, but I sat in the last row of Straughn Auditorium last night grateful for the wonderful performance of all those on stage and the efforts of all those off stage and the warm response of a fairly large audience. Every time Collin talked to or about “Daddy”, I thought of my own sons. I thought about my dad. Thanks for the kite-flying.
Being Mrs. Banks...by Thomas Putnam
I think I saw the film MARY POPPINS three times when it first came out (at the Arcadia!) and I don't think I've seen it since. I did have the record of the soundtrack and heard the songs a lot in those years after it came out. I could sing all the songs. I knew all the characters. Not sure just what it was about it that captured my child's heart.
One of the characters that stood out was the mother, Mrs. Banks. Mother to two children; husband to “stiff upper lip” British banker, a proper gentleman. In the film, Mrs. Banks is part of the British suffragette movement. It was almost comical. Perhaps because of the actress who played the role, or perhaps because of the almost silly song they sang as the women marched out. Mr. Banks wasn't too pleased with the goings on of his proper wife.
The stage musical takes a different slant at the relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Banks. Mrs. Banks was an actress and gave it up when she married. She tries very hard to fulfill the then definition of a “good wife” and is eager to do what is expected. Unfortunately, and quite unsurprisingly, this does not serve anyone: her husband, her children, and especially not herself. In her first song in the first few moments of the play, she confides to her housekeeper, “Do you really think I made another blunder? What on earth am I to say to Mr. Banks?” This just after yet another nanny has been driven off by her unhappy children.
“Being Mrs. Banks should be an easy role, and yet it's one which I don't seem too good at on the whole,” she sings early on in the story. As the mysterious new nanny arrives and begins to work her magic on each of the four members of the family, Mrs. Banks begins to see her “role” and the possibilities for her family. She begins to see that the family can work as a whole and that as herself—rather than in a role—she can help to make her family healthy.
This song, “Being Mrs. Banks,” was not in the original film and at first, I sort of rebelled at anything new to that childhood memory. I'm finding, however, that the new songs are the ones I wake up singing, or humming in the shower, or finding certain phrases stuck in my ear. At a moment in Act II when Julie Martin of Liberty has center stage and heartbreakingly sings this song, the plight of this family comes into focus in a new way. It's a lovely, meaningful, hopeful song, and Julie (who is new to HG, but not to the stage) delivers it with just the right amount of pathos. I hope you can join us at Straughn this week.
Something Before SUPERCAL By Barbara Biddison
What a happy time I had sitting in on the last rehearsal of MARY POPPINS in the Grand Community Room of the Deane Center! The next day they would move rehearsals to Mansfield where the show would open on Straughn stage a week later. But for this Thursday night these 30 or 40-some actors were in high spirits, running some parts once and others several times, over and over. Natalie Holsey, the music director, kept the attention of this large group and Taylor Nickerson the dance director drilled the actors, ranging in age from pre-teen to way-older adults, in their routines. And Thomas, the producer/ director, sat in the front in his wheelchair nodding approval and offering the occasional word of clarification. It was a beautiful picture of cooperative work in rehearsal. Joyful rehearsal.
Beginning with the question, "What do you think we need to work on most?" Answers were something like "Vocal stuff" and "Dance," which as far as I could tell would be just about everything, or at least certain parts of just about everything. And then I realized that two leads, Sarah Duterte as Mary Poppins herself, and Alex Dell as Bert, had been in Grand Horizons just about a year ago playing quite different roles. It was really quite fine to see the range of their talents. And they aren't the only ones that audience members will remember from other HG shows (Cody Losinger comes to mind especially because he's doing cartwheels in this show).
Some of the comments I could overhear because I sat close to the performance space. Dance coach prefaces one of the dance routines as "Easy peasy" but it didn't look easy anything to me. "I'm joining the Russian Ballet after this," says one slightly awkward dancer. "Movements too superficial" about drill with vocal coach and dance movement all together. About a new dance routine: "Now you did it slow! Now you can do it fast!" And all this is said and received in good spirit and attempts to do what is requested. No divas here.
I'm going Opening Night, Thursday, July 13. It runs only 1 long weekend with Sunday matinee.
Don't miss this show!!
From Bratty to Brave....by Thomas Putnam
I'm afraid I've been a whiner the past few months. Being in a full-leg brace with a full-leg stocking underneath in 90 degree weather is just hard; so I'm afraid I've been whining about it. Trying to pick stuff off the floor whilst in a wheelchair? Waaa! Ever tried to sit down on a toilet with no handicapped bars and keeping your left leg completely straight? Yea, it's whine-able. Carrying a plate of food while walking with crutches. WAAA!
I'm also working on a musical called MARY POPPINS and in this musical—on stage more than anyone else—are two bratty children. Jane and Michael Banks. In the film they were just kinda Disney cute; in the stage musical you feel like dropping them off at some animal rescue spot. They are brats. Whiners. They're sassy to nanny's and selfish about toys and patronizing to hired help. And did I say these two characters are on stage more than anyone in the cast? And they sing. And dance. And are brats.
Where in the world (or Tioga County) would we find such youngsters? It's both the exciting part and the scary part of holding auditions; one never knows who might show up. We had about 10 kids audition. I thought there'd be more, but...one never knows. I cast two kids, one of whom I had worked with in CATS Jr this spring, and one I had never seen before. Give 'em the script and hope for the best.
And the best is what we got. These two kids are nailing these characters. Sing? Like pop stars. Dance? Maybe not Fred and Ginger, but they work like crazy on all the moves Taylor Nickerson throws at them. British accents? Like Charles and Camilla. Bratty? Well, it took some time, since these two are just simply nice, cooperative kids; bratty is foreign to them. But now, those early scenes in the musical are filled with these two bratty kids.
But then the Nanny arrives along with her host of angelic chimney sweeps who somehow help these kids—and all of us—realize that whining just doesn't cut it for anyone. There's a transformation (the stuff of any good script/story) and the eyes are opened. It's scary to realize that not all things are going to be rosy and self-serving and easy and good. Jane and Michael learn to be brave and face some pretty difficult challenges.
And Adailya and Collin get it. How we were able to get these two young actors in this show has been a very welcomed blessing. They were brave to come to auditions. They have been brave to jump in a cast of almost all adults and learn three huge dance numbers. They sing a lot through the show; sometimes with the whole chorus, and other times solos! How many adults are brave enough to stand in front of thirty adults while singing solos? They have been brave enough to even imagine getting in front of a large audience (here's hoping!) and sharing the lives of these two characters as they move from being bratty to brave.
ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN... by Thomas Putnam
There's a new song in the stage version of MARY POPPINS that was not in the film. It comes toward the end of the show and, in effect, summarizes the nanny's whole mission in life. She directs her mission primarily to the members of a family that is falling apart. Father, mother, two kids just don't know how to connect with each other. The nanny arrives and convinces them not to get bogged down with despair or pessimism, but to re-frame the situation realizing that anything can happen.
“Anything can happen, raise the curtain. Things you thought impossible will soon seem certain...”
Eight weeks ago I fell resulting in an operation on my leg and the news was that I should expect to lead a “boring” summer, staying off my leg, in a wheel chair or at best crutches. I'm fairly active throughout the year, but late spring and summer is full of outdoor activity for me. Add to that a large scale musical...and a day camp for kids exploring theatre arts.
“Life is out there waiting, so go and get it...” Yeah, right. How the heck was I supposed to go and get it when I couldn't even drive or move any faster than a tentative creep? The realization that I simply could not accomplish most of what I had planned for the summer, and that perhaps the best route would be to cancel the camp and the musical.
“Sally forth the way we're steering. Obstacles start disappearing...” I began asking individuals for help; to take just a portion of the whole—both in terms of camp and in terms of the musical. We had already had auditions and we had a good cast in place so I really didn't want to have to miss this show, or the camp.
One by one people joined the project and took responsibility for various aspects of these two projects. One by one I realized that these people could actually fulfill that responsibility. Little by little I realized these things may actually happen. “Anything can happen...”
Camp last week was wonderful. Nearly 50 kids all singing and dancing and acting and making connections and listening and growing. Anything can happen...especially with a committed staff who put together all the pieces of the puzzle.
Last night we had our first full run-through of MARY POPPINS. It was an amazing experience. How the heck did this all happen? How did all the pieces of this puzzle fit into place?
“Though at first it may sound clownish, See the world more upside-downish...” So far it's been a summer that I would not have imagined, but it's turning out to be not so bad. Hope you can share the joy of Mary Poppins next week at Straughn Auditorium at MU. “Anything can happen...if you let it.”
THE HIGHLANDS FOR KIDS by Barbara Biddison
I have been going to performances created during theatre camps for
Hamilton-Gibson young people for many years now.. It is always a joy
to see what can happen in such a short period of time.
The June 2023 Theatre Arts Camp was at the Tioga County Fairgrounds
during the last week of the month. It concluded with afternoon and
evening performances featuring the 40-some kids in the highlands of
Scotland. Quite a trip, wouldn't you say? From Tioga County
Fairgrounds to the Highlands of Scotland! There were three "clans'"
(each with 13 -15 individuals) and each clan "dramatized"a story.
Titles for the 3 were for the audience to contemplate: "The Man
Without a Heart," and "The Black Bull of Norroway," and "Rashie
Coat." Frankly, there was so much action and story details as voiced
by individuals to keep track of that I felt just pulled along to
wherever the story would take me. The whole thing was great fun.
The audience was full for the afternoon show. We sat with parents and
friends and sponsors and anonymous donors and all were attentive and
receptive and just thoroughly enjoying themselves. Thanks to Thomas
Putnam who makes sure that this camp happens, and to all the staff and
guest presenters who enrich and empower the lives of these kids. Many
of these young people have never been on stage before, and some have
given acting a bit of a try in HG shows and are game to try it again.
Some will decide that this is fun and enriching and empowering and
will go on to be in more HG shows and beyond that to adult theatre, on
stage, or off as members of the audience. I was 16 when I first found
myself on stage in a character totally unlike my own age or gender or
place in a family. This older woman still holds that teenage
experience as a vivid memory. Many of these kids will hold the
Highlands in like thought of enrichment.
Providing opportunities for people of all ages to enrich and empower their lives through community performing arts.
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